Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Sadler’s Last Stand, Diversity’s Shocking Surprise & NASCAR Free Agents Losing Hope

Welcome to Mirror Driving. Every week, your favorite columnists sit down and give their opinion about the latest NASCAR news and rumors. Love us or hate us, make a comment below and tell us how you feel about what we’ve said!

This Week’s Participants:
Tom Bowles (Editor-In-Chief; Mondays/Bowles-Eye View & Wednesdays/Did You Notice?)
Doug Turnbull (Tuesdays/Talking NASCAR TV)
Jeff Meyer (Wednesdays/Top 10 & Thursdays/Voices From the Heartland)
Bryan Davis Keith (Thursdays/Picks ‘N’ Pans & Sundays/Nationwide Series Breakdown)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
Phil Allaway (Frontstretch Newsletter Reporter)

Elliott Sadler was released from Gillett Evernham Motorsports in favor of AJ Allmendinger, and promptly filed suit for breach of contract. Does Sadler have a leg to stand on, and what can he hope to gain – or stand to lose – from the suit?

Doug: Is a judge going to force GEM to field Sadler? No.
Phil: That’s true. Unless he was given some kind of absolute guarantee that the No. 19 was his in 2009, he’s got nothing.
Tom: I think Sadler’s just protecting himself financially. The way this whole thing went down, I’m hard-pressed to see him driving for Gillett ever again.
Bryan: GEM waiting this long to make a decision could effectively kill Sadler’s chances at racing full-time in 2009, though – so that’s got to mean something.
Doug: It means something, as in it stinks for him.
Amy: Well, if his allegations are true that he was never told of the termination by GEM until he had to go ask them if what the media told him was right, he might have a legit breach of contract suit.
Tom: I think Amy’s right in that Sadler’s got a good chance of getting some money out of this. But a ride with a team you’re fighting against in court? I mean, why would you even want it.
Amy: That’s the thing, Tom. It’s not so much that GEM replaced him, it’s the way they went about it. They could have made the move much earlier, still allowing Sadler to find a ride. Now? There’s nothing in even Nationwide or Trucks, and a year off is a death knell in this sport.
Tom: Sadler’s only chance is if sponsors threaten to bolt over his departure. And while some might ultimately walk, I think Gillett’s still going to have enough money to field at least three cars with the Petty merger. I think if anything, those sponsors might help Sadler find a home with another team looking for money.
Doug: Maybe he can bump Aric Almirola out of the No. 8 and give it Best Buy or Stanley.
Bryan: Well, even if they can’t get him a Cup car, Sadler could take those associate sponsors and land a Nationwide ride.
Amy: I heard that at least one sponsor will leave as a result. But in my view, this is the latest example of how GEM treats drivers like crap – and has since Day 1.
Bryan: Another example of big money not understanding that their role in sports is simply to sign checks, shut up and enjoy.
Doug: Amen.
Tom: Amy, this is George Gillett and CEO Tom Reddin putting their stamp on the organization. Kasey Kahne is the only one left who was handpicked by Evernham now.
Phil: You’re saying that Sadler was Evernham’s guy?
Tom: Oh, he definitely was Phil. Evernham plucked him out of Yates to replace Jeremy Mayfield in 2006. Gillett wasn’t even involved yet.
Doug: Gillett lives and dies by the sword. They axed Scott Riggs for Patrick Carpentier, then Carpentier for Reed Sorenson. Now, they’re axing Sadler for ‘Dinger. These aren’t the best moves, although AJ deserves a ride.
Tom: Well, Gillett’s got some big dreams. He wants to be the next Rick Hendrick, and to do that, you’re going to have to take some chances. Although, releasing Sadler this late in the game isn’t taking a chance, it’s downright stupid.
Amy: Tom, the organization treated drivers badly when it was just Ray Evernham, and they certainly didn’t change this time. I don’t have an issue with firing a driver for poor performance, but I do have an issue with waiting to do it so he’s all but guaranteed not to have any ride in 2009.
Bryan: Well, the reports of sponsors being unhappy makes me think that GEM definitely did not plan this out. Maybe they were banking on the lateness to keep sponsors that were happy with Sadler from jumping ship just because they had no competitive alternative.
Amy: Still a crappy thing to do, Bryan.
Doug: And how does Sorenson – as much as I root for a fellow Georgian – get that ride and not Sadler?
Jeff: Especially after recently extending his contract!
Amy: Because they just signed Reed and don’t want to admit they screwed the pooch.
Tom: Well, I will say this: I don’t understand why Sadler’s contract was extended in the first place. Yeah, he had a great relationship with the sponsors, but he finished outside the top 20 in points two straight years. That was NOT getting it done over there. Now, by no means does he deserve to get dumped like that, but….
Amy: Sadler’s still better than a lot in the garage.
Doug: Which is why there’s no point in suing. He should be the better person, move to a team in any series and prove he can still drive.
Tom: Well, Amy was right about what she said with GEM, at least. Mayfield did get screwed.
Phil: Mayfield became a pariah, just like Sadler could become with this lawsuit – but for a different reason. Mayfield’s pariah status came as a result of his own mouth.
Bryan: Let’s not forget also that Mayfield’s troubles weren’t just with GEM. He left Penske in a bad way, too.
Jeff: Can’t compare Mayfield and Sadler. Two totally different personalities.
Doug: Two different situations, too. Mayfield was informed midseason he was losing his ride, still made a big deal about it and aired Evernham’s dirty laundry. Sadler just got a bad Christmas gift.
Amy: Mayfield went personal with Evernham, and it was completely uncalled for – even if it was true.
Tom: Well, Mayfield had a different reason to be upset. They basically took Kenny Francis away from him prior to 2006 because Kahne was supposed to be their No. 1 and Mayfield was running circles around him. Two different scenarios. But anyways, if I’m in Sadler’s shoes, he has no reason NOT to file. He basically just got spit on and thrown out the door.
Amy: This organization seems to have an attitude that if they don’t want a driver, nobody else should have them either. The way they fired Casey Atwood ended his career, too.
Jeff: That is why I have no problem with Sadler filing. And I don’t think the mainstream fan does, either. As long as us idiot press don’t make a big deal out of it with topics like this!
Tom: I do think the sponsors are key to Sadler landing somewhere. If one comes with him, he could slip in at Earnhardt-Ganassi ahead of Bobby Labonte, Hall of Fame or somewhere else.
Amy: Well, I can’t see dropping Labonte for Sadler, no matter how great a person Elliott is.
Jeff: HoF maybe, then. It’s best for them if he did go there.
Doug: Of course, HoF has some Texas Instruments sponsorship, so all they would need is one of the partial deals from the No. 19 and they would be good.
Bryan: Let’s think about it. I could see Best Buy marketing with ‘Dinger, maybe McDonald’s – definitely not Stanley Tools.
Doug: Sadler is definitely more Stanley than ‘Dinger.
Amy: I really can’t see ‘Dinger hawking tools. Some of those tools are bigger than him!
Bryan: He’d be almost as out of place as Joey Logano with Home Depot. Anyways, Sadler will be the first guy to fill in a Cup car in 2009 if he doesn’t get a ride.
Phil: There’s also the Helio Castroneves issue with Penske. If Helio goes to jail, there is a chance that Sam Hornish Jr. replaces him in the IRL. Sadler could slide in there in that situation.
Doug: I think the Penske scenario is unlikely. That seems pretty out there. It would be late in the game for Hornish to jump.
Tom: Well, let’s put it this way Doug: what if Hornish struggles out of the box for the first five races again? It’s not like he needs to practice before the start of the IRL season. It’s not till the end of March. I think it’s plausible.
Doug: I just feel like that scenario was dreamt up by someone writing a story.
Tom: As for the future of Gillett itself, he needs the merger with Petty more than ever right now to save some face.
Amy: Because putting Sorenson in the King’s car is such a great PR move.
Doug: As is giving Petty a minor role in a crappy organization.
Jeff: Yeah, I think leaving the Petty name in there somewhere is more NASCAR’s request.
Doug: And it helps with sponsors, too.
Jeff: If I was Petty, I’d have no part of GEM.

Due to economic concerns, the short track in Mansfield, Ohio closed down and will be replaced by Iowa Speedway on the schedule for 2009. How big a loss was that for the series, and was Iowa a perfect choice as a replacement?

Phil: Iowa was as good a replacement as you could have gotten under the circumstances.
Bryan: Iowa is a good replacement, but losing Mansfield hurts. That bullring never failed to put on a good show.
Doug: I wish we could have both. Mansfield’s situation is indicative of what many short tracks are going through. It shows how much a track must be hurting when a NASCAR series can’t keep them afloat.
Amy: It’s a huge loss for the series and for Mansfield, except for those Mansfieldians who really needed another strip mall. Iowa was the best possible replacement, though.
Phil: I, for one, definitely look forward to the racing there.
Jeff: Iowa is a 1,000 times better track to race on. Ask any driver that has been to both.
Amy: Rockingham would have been better.
Bryan: They missed a golden opportunity to return to the Rock.
Tom: Well, Iowa is a racetrack I wish all three top series would race on. But losing Mansfield is a big loss for the Truck Series.
Bryan: Donny Lia made Mansfield one of the most memorable races of last year.
Tom: I want to go back to what Doug said for a minute, because I think he made a great point; this reminds us that with this economic downturn, the top level of NASCAR is not all that’s suffering. We could see more local short tracks in trouble.
Phil: Definitely. Hopefully, that doesn’t come to pass.
Amy: I noticed last year at Hickory that a lot of teams didn’t race.
Doug: And fans won’t show if they are short on cash and there is a Cup race on TV Saturday night.
Bryan: Car counts have been down everywhere. The dirt-track circuit in northern Virginia had their car counts drop big time over the summer.
Tom: Racing is an expensive sport. It’s not like baseball, where all you need is a bat, a glove and a pair of cleats. Oh, well. We get Iowa at least. It’s such a unique track and injects some variety back into NASCAR. Why can’t they build more unique ones like that?
Phil: Maybe because one company seemingly builds all the places.
Jeff: I’ve been to Iowa several times working for Frontstretch. Every Cup driver loves to race there that has already.
Doug: I wish the proposed NASCAR tracks in New York and Washington had been built. They seemed to be more like the kind of tracks that people want.
Bryan: There’s a track in Rockingham, N.C. that fits the bill.
Amy: I still think Rockingham should get the nod. The racing there is great and it has history. Have you seen the Rock with all the names on it? It is just awesome.
Tom: As long as Rockingham remains an active track, I always think there’s a chance it’ll come back. As for new tracks being built, with the current recession, it just ain’t going to happen for a while. We’re stuck with what we got.

Now that the Mauricia Grant lawsuit is settled, do you think the diversity issue will fade into the sunset – or pop up once again in 2009?

Amy: I hope it fades into the sunset. Or rather, I hope it stops being an issue. The most qualified person should get a job, period.
Phil: I think it’ll fade for a while, then pop up once the economy recovers.
Doug: Yeah, there seemed to be enough other allegations from other people to make it seem like there is enough going on for it to pop up again.
Amy: Well, I’m all for women and minorities in NASCAR – if they are an improvement and better than the person they replace. But not for the sake of appearances.
Jeff: Well, NASCAR is all about appearance. Always has been and will be. Especially with Brian there.
Bryan: Well, I have a feeling that diversity is going to be a problem in 2009, and here’s why: Marc Davis. Davis is a great talent, but he’s being rushed. If he washes out, all the journalists that jumped on the Grant story will jump on Davis as a minority driven out of the sport unfairly.
Doug: Marc probably won’t get the ride or sponsors needed to succeed though, Bryan. The No. 22 Fitz car was a great example of that.
Bryan: Davis will get the ride if he’s patient. He’s 18; he doesn’t have to be in the Nationwide ranks yet. For heaven’s sake, he’s got one full season of Camping World Series under his belt. Give him time.
Phil: Well, Davis can only go so far with backing from Howard University’s radio station. I do agree he needs to get a ride on merit, though.
Bryan: I’m not convinced that Davis is ready to drive in the top-three series yet. His numbers in the East Series ride did not match what Logano did, and that’s not a bad thing. Not everyone can be Logano.
Tom: Well, you have to wonder if the equipment he was given was 100% equal. That’s the big question.
Bryan: It’s JGR equipment in the East Series… come on.
Tom: Well, chemistry is everything, too. I mean, look what Logano did in the No. 96! It’s just interesting how Davis hasn’t been brought up exactly the same way as Logano.
Doug: I wish that Davis could stay in the Randy Moss ride for a while, gain some experience and then see what he can land. Meanwhile, in Grant’s case, the crux of it had nothing to do with not getting promotions – it had to do with all-out discrimination. NASCAR must have given her a boatload of dough to shut up.
Tom: I still can’t believe the case was settled, to be honest. After sitting down and interviewing her in the beginning, I thought she was determined to see this all the way through. She definitely put forth a strong case, but we’ll never know how it would have stood up now.
Doug: Once again, someone criticizes NASCAR and it goes absolutely nowhere.
Bryan: For it to go somewhere, something actually has to be there, Doug. And let’s face it – Grant was not a stellar plaintiff.
Jeff: Brian paid to make it go away.
Amy: I think she was telling the truth, but I also think she used the truth to further greed with that ridiculous $225 million figure – which hurt her credibility.
Jeff: Who cares about her credibility? We will never see or hear of her again!
Bryan: I think that a few persons acted poorly – that’s it. Grant and her lawyer chose to make a huge, landmark issue out of something that wasn’t.
Doug: What makes you think she wasn’t telling the truth, Bryan? She wasn’t the best plaintiff, but there are others in the garage that came out in the wake of her allegations saying things had happened to them.
Tom: I thought Grant came across as very, very believable. Yeah, she wasn’t exactly a perfect angel. But that doesn’t take away from all the awful stuff that happened. Just because she had some personal problems, that doesn’t justify treating her the way they were accused of doing.
Bryan: Just because someone is called names by a few persons does not automatically mean that a sport and a culture are at fault.
Doug: Except that it not only happened to Grant, but it happened to others, and her employer did not even take her seriously. That is big.
Tom: Well, I think it was a missed opportunity to throw the whole concept of diversity out in the open. I still think it’s amazing that in 2009 we don’t have an African-American driver driving full-time in the top-three series.
Amy: But should someone hire a driver simply because they are African-American/female/or other ethnic minority?
Jeff: Hey, remember the 1970s? It was very, very rare that there was a black QB in the NFL. Now…
Phil: The problem with the lack of drivers is an overall lack of interest. And that’s in addition to a lack of a real entry point for most minorities into even grassroots racing.
Bryan: That’s a ridiculous statement, Phil. NASCAR is the most open sport for minorities or anyone to participate in. There is no franchising. If you want to race, start your own team! There is nothing, and I mean nothing stopping minorities from starting their own operations.
Amy: I think things will change when there is a diverse group of truly qualified individuals who come up through the ranks the right way.
Tom: Well, NASCAR suffers from what happened in their past. I mean, they openly supported George Wallace in the presidential elections of the 1970s. Which should make them even more vigilant to try and conquer the stereotype, because it will persist until someone breaks through. I will say this, though… there has been a notable increase in minority officials at the track since the lawsuit occurred. I’m not the only one who thinks that, either. So in one way, I wonder if this lawsuit did its job.
Jeff: You know maybe, as I said before in my column, blacks or other minorities just don’t want to race as much.
Bryan: It’s a valid point. The door is completely open for minorities to cut their teeth and take part in stock car racing. They’re not showing up. And the few that have haven’t cut it on the track.
Phil: It’s not a “bad sport” because of a lack of diversity.
Doug: Well, it seems that Grant did everything right to come up through the ranks and got fired for trying to stand up for herself. That isn’t right. If that is what minorities will have to go through in this sport, it isn’t right.
Amy: I agree with you, Doug. The fact that NASCAR condoned that treatment needs to end and end now.
Tom: And Bryan, let’s look at it this way: if the culture isn’t one that seems to welcome minorities, then why would they even bother to show up? If someone called me the “N” word after I won a race at some local short track, I wouldn’t exactly feel like coming back either. And I’ve heard so many bad stories, it’ll make you sick.
Doug: Racing is not a bad sport, but it looks that way when crew members or cohorts are dumping water on people’s shirts and saying people show up on “black people time” and talk about lynching.
Bryan: Um let’s not forget, in all this hype about diversity, that 2009 will see the Cup Series welcome another full-time minority driver in Aric Almirola. A driver who is proof positive that the grassroots Drive for Diversity works.

See also
Side by Side: Is NASCAR Doing Enough For Diversity?

Doug: Agreed on Almirola, but even he may not have a ride if sponsorship doesn’t pan out.
Phil: You’re right though, Bryan; Almirola does get overshadowed at times. I’ve been pleased with his progress.
Bryan: And we’ve got Davis and Jesus Hernandez in the Camping World Series ranks, not to mention the drivers from NASCAR Mexico who have started filtering into the East Series.
Tom: But that’s not a fix all. Even with Lewis Hamilton, his father claimed all sorts of horrible name calling was going on with him all over the Formula 1 tour. It’s sad how racism still exists in our society in the 21st century.
Jeff: What about Juablo!
Doug: He is the lone success so far.
Tom: For more to be added, I think we need to push forward from this stagnation in ownership, stagnation in terms of the same drivers being successful, etc. Someone new needs to come along with the talent to progress the sport, combined with the support of a new or existing owner that has the funding to compete.
Doug: The bottom line is NASCAR just proved that it cannot look in the mirror and improve itself with this issue. It may be a good sport overall, but something has to change more than paying off one plaintiff.
Bryan: We’re going to see the diversity debate keep popping up in 2009 and beyond. But, Grant’s allegations notwithstanding, minorities are getting their shot at officiating, at owning, at driving. It seems that most journalists just don’t want to print that story.
Doug: It is not that people aren’t getting their shot, Bryan, it is that they are getting discriminated against – like Grant when they get there.

Of the remaining free-agent drivers, who finds a home and where? Or are there simply no more rides to be had – quality or otherwise.

Doug: It all depends on Sadler’s sponsorship ties. I think Labonte goes to the EGR 41 car.
Amy: True. If Sadler can bring Stanley, at least, he has a shot at the No. 96 or No. 41.
Bryan: Labonte definitely should be in Cup full-time in 2009, though.
Phil: At this point, there are really only one or two seats left. Labonte will probably get one, unless they can’t work sponsor issues.
Tom: I’m with Labonte to the No. 41 – that’s what I’ve been told by sources will happen. Meanwhile, maybe Sadler slides in at Hall of Fame – if they’re even around in February. After that, I don’t know exactly what rides are even left at this point. I think whoever’s on the sidelines may have a long wait ahead of them post-Daytona unless Hornish bolts.
Doug: Well, the Yates cars are not fully funded except for Paul Menard, so maybe Sadler bumps David Gilliland and takes Stanley to the No. 38. Or, he may be able to land a ride with HoF or EGR in the No. 8.
Phil: Sadler will probably get the No. 96. If not, HoF will likely have multiple drivers sharing the car for the year.
Bryan: I think Sadler can do better than HoF.
Jeff: I still say HoF shoulda kept Tony Raines.
Phil: Yeah, they should have kept Raines. He did much better than anyone in the car did last year.
Bryan: HoF is doomed until they settle on a driver. Driver by committee does not work at the Cup level.
Tom: You know, I was surprised no one took a chance on Mayfield. The guy does have two Chase appearances. That’s still one more than Kahne had and two more than Labonte has.
Bryan: Mayfield is toxic among Cup owners though, Tom.
Doug: Mayfield had nowhere to go.
Tom: EGR could have grabbed him. You know, another good one sitting on the sidelines is Scott Wimmer.
Bryan: Oh, Scott Wimmer. How he got hosed.
Tom: Wimmer should have a ride somewhere… at the very least, a top-tier Nationwide Series ride.
Doug: By the way, I like that Regan Smith went to Furniture Row.
Tom: I like that move too, Doug, but how often will they even show up? FRR is supposed to be doing just a limited schedule.
Amy: I wouldn’t wish Furniture Row on my worst enemy or even Kyle Busch. That team is a trainwreck.
Doug: If he makes a few races with them and stays on the radar, though, he may be able to land a good ride for 2010. Haha, I can’t believe I just started 2010 Silly Season.
Phil: Furniture Row will probably do as many races as they can afford.
Bryan: Amy, I wouldn’t say FRR is that bad, they’re just outgunned.
Amy: No, Bryan, that’s not all it is. Trust me. Having your rear brakes on backwards and not noticing for two practice sessions doesn’t happen because you’re outgunned.
Phil: The Colorado base definitely hurts Furniture Row. They simply cannot attract the best personnel. When did that brake incident occur?
Amy: New Hampshire at the 2006 fall race.
Tom: Oh Amy, that was two years ago. They won a pole with Joe Nemechek this year!
Doug: I think Furniture Row did well – considering who they are – last season. They made almost every race. You’d have to think by now they’ve learned from their mistakes.
Phil: They likely have, Doug. They were basically a rookie team in 2006.
Amy: But they won their pole this year at Talladega in full qualifying setup – with a Hendrick motor.
Tom: Well, for everything that went wrong, they also put two cars into the 2008 Daytona 500 against some pretty formidable competition – and with barely enough personnel for a one-car team.
Bryan: FRR has made progress with the No. 78 this year. Going 31 for 36 is impressive.
Amy: Hey, how sweet is it Brendan Gaughan got the second Rusty Wallace-owned car in the Nationwide Series?
Bryan: Very.
Tom: Brendan and Rusty go way back, I think.
Phil: I also noted that South Point’s going to be on the No. 62 for a few races. Maybe that played a role.
Bryan: Well, if some team stoops to bringing Kyle Krisiloff back for his money, I’m going to gag.
Phil: Hey, Bryan; you mean Clabber Girl (Hulman-George) money?
Bryan: Yes, Phil; that’s how the kid got like five freaking rides to wash out of.
Tom: Krisiloff was a giant wrecking ball. I’d love to see Krisiloff versus Steve Wallace in a Demolition Derby – if they didn’t crash on the way to the track.
Doug: I remember when Krisiloff was the Hendrick heir apparent.
Phil: I thought Boston Reid was the better of that duo at Hendrick.
Tom: Whatever happened to Boston?
Doug: I haven’t heard a thing about him. I guess he made enough money to be set for a while.
Amy: All I remember about him is his unfortunate nickname, and that he went kite tubing with Casey Mears and Brian Vickers when Vickers busted his….
Tom: Um, I think it’s time to sign off before we go any further!

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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